Ed Roberson, The New Wing of the Labyrinth (Singing Horse Press, 2009), 83 pp. $15.00—The last section — part 4 — of Part One is titled “at the ends of the earth.” I can’t help but think of Roberson’s recent, and magnificent, book, To See the Earth Before the End of the World. The reversal of earth and world in these titles portending absolute limits is, I think, one way to think about the devastation of life after (near) death that suffuses this book from five years ago. Depression, mania and suicide occupy the thoughts of Roberson’s narrators in what has to the darkest book of his I’ve read. As the title poem and cover photo suggests, this is a record of failure, a grounded Daedalus, a rescued Icarus, as noted in, for example, “Deep Song”: “the body left / shocked surprise of / weakened of part of / of different not all / alive but left.” These poems have the somber resignation and world weariness that Tennyson captures in his bleak “Ulysses.” Roberson’s narrators are no “idle” kings but their idylls arrest themselves in the paralysis of utter speech, mere talk.
Craig Dworkin, The Crystal Text (Compline), n.p.—Importantly, the “author” of this chapbook does not appear on the cover or back. Instead, Dworkin’s name appears on the title page below this parenthetical note: “(After Clark Coolidge).” Thus the cover foregrounds only the “crystal text,” recalling Pound’s insistence that it doesn’t matter who writes great poems, only that they be written. In addition, though no date of publication appears anywhere, a note on the last page tells us that the text “marks Craig Dworkin’s reading with Myung Mi Kim on December 14, 2012 for Small Press Traffic.” Since the editors do not indicate that the text is a graphic recording or transcription — faithful or not — of Dworkin’s reading, the verb of choice, “marks,” gains significance, especially as it concerns a text that is an ‘edited’ version of Coolidge’s monumental work, first published in 1986 by The Figures and republished in 1995 by Sun & Moon. A detractor might wryly note the pernicious influence, still, of Borges’ “Pierre Menard,” or more distantly (and perhaps less likely), Nabokov’s Pale Fire.
The Feeling i$ Mutual: A Li$t of Our Fucking Demands, ed. Sara Wintz (Occupy Forever, 2012), 64 pp. unpriced—When I visited Brenda Iijima and Thom Donovan in 2011 at the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Donovan was scornful of the mainstream media ventriloquizing what they imagined as “most” Americans’ central question: what do they want? A year later I watched live feeds of the violent confrontation between members of Occupy Oakland. A few hours before I flew into San Francisco to participate in a group reading at Small Press Traffic.
A (Slack Buddha Press, 2009), 32 pp., $5.00—As the title/ lay-out of its cover indicates, Finlay’s book is a collection of mesotic poems, twenty-five, “about” mostly Chinese teas. Both the vertical form and terse, direct, language echoes lyric, that is, imperial, Chinese poetic sensibilities, particularly those influenced by its Buddhist and Confucian traditions. The beautiful design of the chapbook, the fourteen and sixteen pt. fonts, all indicate that this is a book to be viewed as much, perhaps more than, read, horizontally and vertically.
So I will be doing rather rapid, on the move, mini-reviews, mostly of chapbooks, although I will sprinkle in several books, over the course of twelve weeks here at Jacket2. The title of what I will view as a column-cum-blog is Hunches, Hedges, etc. a title meant to emphasize the tentative, preliminary, judgments under various constraints (other writing projects, the format of the particular work for Jacket2, etc.). However cautionary these writings, they do perform a service: appetizers for potential readers. This particularly true for the chapbook reviews. I don’t mean that the chapbooks are themselves tasty nibbles of some luscious entrée to follow (i.e., a book), though some chapbooks do, in fact, function to do so. Rather I mean that I want to introduce readers to authors they may be unaware of, authors they might be willing to take a chance on. In that sense these hasty generalizations are modest introductions. Of course, in the disparate field that is contemporary poetry, I cannot, and will not, presume that some names are either obviously well-known or relatively unknown. Instead, I am simply wading through my “to be read” stacks, pulling out chapbooks, books, pamphlets, often with a grimace (“oh yeah, right, I did say I’d get back to such and such.”), grin (“can’t wait to dive into this one!”) or, just as often, stoic non-expression (“well, here goes nothing…”).